Saturday, March 28, 2020

First Steps in Training during the Pandemic

In my last post, I cautioned climbers against rushing into training. It's a lot like the way shoppers have been rushing into buying toilet paper. The truth is that training is a bit like toilet paper, there's only so much of it you can use at one time and there's not likely to be a shortage of opportunities to acquire more in the future. I have seen so many posts on social media inquiring about hangboards, how to build climbing walls, what routines to use and so on along with dozens of examples of interactive online workouts, videos, and FAQs. Again the healthy instinct here is to step away from the firehose of information and think clearly about where you are, what you have and what you need. The first step to becoming self-sufficient is understanding these things clearly.

If you're a beginning or truly recreational climber, as I have mentioned before, you don't really need to train anything except climbing, which is unfortunately unavailable for obvious reasons. So don't worry about it. Don't waste time and money on a lousy climbing wall or get bored or frustrated on a hangboard. Go for simple home-based exercises based on the use of your bodyweight and freeweights such as dumbbells. Push-ups are amazing. Running is an excellent option for general fitness especially for those desiring longer objectives outdoors and running with a bit of weight uphill is even better. Put some full water bottles in a pack for the uphill and empty them for the downhill. When the climbing areas or gyms re-open you'll have  no problem getting right back into it.

For the more advanced climbers, onsighting easy 5.11 and up to maybe 12a or b, things get complicated. A lot of climbers at this level haven't needed to personally invest in equipment thanks to the proliferation of gyms but consistently use it. Now it's unavailable and options are limited so what to do? As above general fitness is very helpful and worth pursuing but at this level so is sport-specific training. For this level, I would primarily recommend investing in or making a good hangboard. A hangboard will do more, ounce for ounce, than any other training modality. Building a good climbing wall would be awesome but hardly necessary and demands free space, time, tools, and quite a lot of money for materials and holds, along with the judgment to use them all well. I have seen enough pictures of extraordinarily bad climbing walls recently to now consider buying stock in lumber companies. A hangboard is a simple and very effective low-cost option that will definitely help. More on how to use them shortly. If you can't wait there are literal hundreds, if not thousands, of videos out there. This one is probably the best:

Great video as is all of Dave's content

What kind of hangboard? Buy or make a board that is made of wood and has options for full pad and half pad edges. The other many features that some makers tout are mostly bells and whistles and of very limited utility. Plastic is a material of last resort for hangboards and something I strongly recommend against. I personally own a Beastmaker 2000 and would strongly recommend this company's products. Tension Climbing also makes good hangboards from wood. Metolius campus rungs are another great option as well as this board. Full disclosure: I am not sponsored or supported in any way by these companies.

Another "option" for picking a hangboard is looking at ads in Craigslist. Anything that is still available for sale right now you should firmly socially distance yourself from. Chances are they will be old-school slippery plastic designs that will be neither comfortable nor easy to use. Don't waste your money; purchase (support your local climbing store) or order something that works.

12+ and up? You should include all the above plus a proper climbing wall. This is an investment you should definitely make should you be so lucky as to be employed full-time and have a family, even if there are good climbing gyms close by. If you own your own home and have the free space, this is a great investment in your climbing future. You need never miss a workout for lack of time and you can dial in your equipment to suit your needs and plans, something that even the best gyms don't necessarily provide. Especially important is hold selection, a vital component to any home training plan.

Next post I'll start getting into training specifics but suffice to say, basic is better than elaborate, consistent is better than erratic, and self-awareness beats having to be told what to do. How to get there? We'll get started shortly!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Training in the Time of Coronavirus Part 1

Hi Everyone,
I want to start by saying that in this rapidly changing environment anything I say should be taken with a grain of premium uncut chalk, maybe two. Your mileage may vary, you may experience technical difficulties, etc.

Okay, now let's begin. Based on my admittedly informal survey of the internet etc, everyone is frantic to train and is busy buying or building the thing/s they think they need to not lose those precious gains they had built up during the winter. This is a normal impulse but not one to be indulged in too heavily. Here's why.

1. At least initially, taking a week or two out around this time of year is something you should probably do anyway. Rest is good for you. Recharging by getting outside just moving around is actually really helpful for your overall climbing ability.

2. You're stressed. The pandemic is a really big deal on multiple fronts and finding the focus and psyche is not going to be automatic, especially if your training options are small, subpar and lonely. So trying to charge in there with ideas of smashing the training plans/goals/whatever are unrealistic. You don't need that additional stress in your life right now, unless that stress is productive.

3. Training is really hard. Climbing is relatively easy. Switching to only training will expose weaknesses you may not have realized you had and injury can result. This is especially true if you haven't been training seriously in the past, which describes a lot of climbers right now.

So what is the first step? Assess what you really need.

Are you climbing 5.10 or lower and just want to climb? Go running or walking while they are still options. Simple bodyweight or free weight exercises are more than enough to keep you climbing fit at that level.  A week of climbing when the gyms re-open will do the rest. You're all set. Seriously. Congratulations!

Are you climbing 5.11 or easy 5.12 and don't want to slide? Same as above but maybe add in a bit of fingerboarding. I'll talk more about specifics in another post very soon.

Are you a 12+ to mid-13 climber who wants to keep strong no matter what? Chances are you already have training equipment and some kind of plan. The question is how to leverage that situation to your benefit. Look for that post. Should you build a climbing wall? Yes, you probably should. I'll discuss that too.

13+ and up? You don't need my advice hahaha.

Regardless the way I am going to recommend you train is that it resembles brushing your teeth. You want a sustainable non-crazy routine that will be a habit that can be carried forward regardless of circumstances, one that will enable you to readily jump back on the bus when the doors are opened, whenever that it is. It could be a long time so careful planning now is a great first step.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Training in the Time of Coronavirus: First Impressions

The world has completely changed since I posted last. I wrote about the implications for climbing here at and nothing has changed since then. In fact things are clearly getting much much worse. Closures of public land seem inevitable, or worse yet, complete public lockdowns are in progress which will surely expand beyond the current handful of states. Any naive hopes of turning this crisis into an expanded spring break road trip have been thoroughly quashed by public health closures and repeated posts from climbers on social media and elsewhere saying in essence, "stay home."

My cellar wall. Yes those are original V10s. Best board shoes ever. Saw a pair on CL recently asking $200.

So what to do? How to do it? Great questions and here are my thoughts this far in.

My first piece of advice is, if you're serious about training, think really long term because this pandemic is going to take a very long time to resolve and when/if it does resolve, things may have changed a lot. So your plan has to be sustainable for weeks and more likely months.

Second piece of advice. Don't make major changes in volume or intensity of anything. Getting injured is really unhelpful and very demotivating. Plus you don't want to see a doctor right now. Seriously, you don't.

Third piece of advice. Don't buy expensive stuff until you absolutely know you need it. Make your own hangboard from scraps of wood. Build the hangboard before you build a home wall.

Fourth piece of advice. Stop stressing about this right now. In fact this might be the worst possible time to launch into a serious training regimen. Take a break. Read some books. Walk the dog. Volunteer to help someone in need. Wait until you have space in your head for actual useful training and then get into it. More on that later.

Fifth piece of advice. Keep your gym membership current. If you can afford it, your local gym needs every dime of revenue you can give. Whether gyms stay open in the future will depend on your support happening right now.

And that's all for now. Later this week or early next, I'll discuss more concrete ideas for maintaining climbing fitness.